5 Must-Do Outdoor Adventures in Cleveland

Here’s the Cleveland locals’ guide to finding big adventure without a big commute.

Cleveland may be a booming urban center, but its location offers much more than just industry and commerce. Being situated right on the banks of Lake Erie, straddling the Cuyahoga River, and just minutes away from a national park makes it one of the best cities for outdoor recreation in the Midwest. Better yet? You don’t have to go to a big-name park or national forest to get your nature fix: Thanks to its robust Metroparks system, you’ll find over 24,000 acres of parkland hidden throughout the Greater Cleveland area.

With so many adventure opportunities to choose from, it helps to rely on a little local expertise from the likes of Rachel Nagle. The outdoor recreation manager for Cleveland Metroparks is eager to share her favorite outings within Cuyahoga County. 

1. Paddle Hinckley Lake

Grab a kayak or standup paddleboard and put in for a day of placid, flatwater paddling on 90-acre Hinckley Lake, located just south of Cleveland proper. 

“Hinckley Lake is one of the gems within Cleveland Metroparks,” says Nagle. “You can see old beaver dams, and cormorants will paddle up next to you. It’s a great place for beginners to get out, experience nature, and get used to the water in a nice flatwater venue.” Rentals available at the Hinckley Lake Boathouse and Store.

Ready for the next level up? Intermediate paddlers can stage an expedition on the Lake Erie Water Trail, a 20-mile stretch that runs from Huntington Beach at one end of Cuyahoga County to Sims Park on the other. 

2. Shred Singletrack at Mill Stream Run

To the southeast of the Cleveland metro area, you’ll find the Mill Stream Run Reservation, a verdant nature preserve that boasts about 10 miles of mountain biking trails suitable for both beginner and intermediate bikers. [Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]“It’s great for people who want to get their heart pumping and want to get some mileage in, and it’s beautiful terrain out there,” says Nagle. She adds that the Bedford Reservation farther east offers mountain biking trails that are even more beginner-friendly. (Before you visit either reservation, check online first for closures due to rain or mud.)  

3. Hike to a Castle in North Chagrin Reservation 

“There are literally hundreds of miles of trails within Cleveland Metroparks,” Nagle says. One great option for a quick afternoon trip? North Chagrin Reservation, which is home to Squire’s Castle, 400-year-old beech trees, and the tiered cascades of Buttermilk Falls Creek. Because it’s on the east side of Cleveland, the reservation gets a lot of snow, Nagle says, so it’s a nice snowshoe destination in the winter, as well. 

Have a little more time on your hands? “You can actually go backpacking within the Cleveland Metroparks system,” Nagle says. There are three reservable backcountry sites at Ottawa Overlook within the Brecksville Reservation (apply at least two weeks in advance to snag one). From there you can hop on Ohio’s famous Buckeye Trail or hike south to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

4. Climb at Hinckley Reservation 

Spend an afternoon scrambling over mossy boulders and scaling the sandstone cliffs of Whipp’s Ledges, the only climbing crag within the Cleveland Metroparks system. Here you’ll find about 75 top-rope routes, 60 boulders, and a handful of trad lines, ranging from beginner-friendly to expert level.  

“It’s a beautiful place because you have these towering walls, right along the Buckeye Trail,” Nagle says, “and when you get to the top and look out, you can see the birds flying around you—it’s just this exhilarating feeling.”

5. Cross-Country Ski Shawnee Hills Golf Course 

When there’s at least 4 inches of compacted snow on the ground, several golf courses within the Cleveland Metroparks system open to snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Nagle’s favorite? Shawnee Hills.

“I’ve been there in the winter and seen a fox go right past,” she says. “You’re near the city, but it just reminds you how connected you are to nature still.” 

If you don’t have your own skis, you can pick up a pair of rentals at the Big Met Golf Course in the Rocky River Reservation. You can rent snowshoes at either the Big Met or the Hinckley Boathouse. Cleveland Metroparks also offers classes for first-timers in either sport. 

“So many times when it gets dark or cold, people migrate indoors,” Nagle says. “But if you grab a headlamp, grab some layers, grab some snowshoes or skis—it’s a great way to discover that Cleveland is this amazing place in winter, too.” 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.